Malaysia Media Report 2020: Lack of women in senior editorial positions results in toxic newsrooms

Health director-general Datuk Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah at a press conference in Putrajaya April 13, 2020. The report stated that such under-representation in key editorial roles such as directors, bureau chiefs and editors in the industry also lead to under-reporting of women’s rights and gender equity. — Picture by Choo Choy May
Health director-general Datuk Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah at a press conference in Putrajaya April 13, 2020. The report stated that such under-representation in key editorial roles such as directors, bureau chiefs and editors in the industry also lead to under-reporting of women’s rights and gender equity. — Picture by Choo Choy May

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KUALA LUMPUR, May 5 — The Malaysia Media Report 2020 said the lack of women in senior editorial positions have resulted in a “toxic and self-perpetuating cycle” in newsrooms.

The report stated that such under-representation in key editorial roles such as directors, bureau chiefs and editors in the industry also lead to under-reporting of women’s rights and gender equity.

“Such under-representation results in a toxic and self perpetuating cycle in which there are few mentors in newsrooms for future female leaders.

“This not only impacts on the working atmosphere but also points to the lack of gender mainstreaming in Malaysian media, the dearth of gender-sensitised headlines and language, and poor coverage of hot button issues such as domestic violence, sexual harassment, prostitution and child sexual assault,” said the report.

The report, by the National Union of Journalist (NUJ) in collaboration with International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) Asia-Pacific Region, gauged press freedom in the country in 2020.

The report also included a survey on 240 local media practitioners where they gauged their respective working conditions, ranging from wage concerns, safety issues and overall job security.

It was found that women were represented in executive and management roles such as CEO, executive and general manager, with 83.3 per cent of the respondents saying their organisation had women in high-ranking roles. 

The report also stressed several other challenges faced by female media practitioners, especially working mothers, where they faced discrimination and overlooked for promotions due to stigma on their supposed inability to work in a fast paced industry.

“Neglecting the challenges faced by working mothers in the media increases the odds of journalism becoming an arena open only to single or child-free women.

“There are also fewer opportunities for career advancement and full-time employment in media for married women and those who are mothers, as stereotypical perceptions about women’s abilities to work and lead in fast-paced newsrooms stubbornly persist. 

“These include stereotypes about coming back to work after starting a family, which also result in women leaving the industry after a certain age,’’ said the report.

Another concerning find is that harassment and attackers were the biggest threat to media workers across Malaysia. 

However, the survey also noticed a worrying trend among the respondents, alluding to under-reporting of harassment or attacks because of fear of retaliation.

“In worrying trends, harassment was experienced by 8.3 per cent of respondents, online harassment by 5.4 per cent and cyberattacks by 5 per cent. Somewhat surprisingly, gender-based harassment was reported by only 0.8 per cent of those surveyed, while 89.2 per cent of respondents said they had never experienced harassment, intimidation or violence on the basis of their gender.

“This disparity may be due to the fact that women routinely under-report or fail to report targeted attacks due to fear of retaliation, the bystander effect, and a masculine culture that permits sexual harassment.

“Thus, it is likely that the actual figures for gender-based harassment are far higher than what was reported.

“Furthermore, the emphasis on teleworking increased the risks of online gender-based violence and trolling, which remain to be quantified,’’ said the report.

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